From equitable early child care access to nutritious school meals, a slew of new bills will change the state’s education landscape.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed numerous bills to address California’s ongoing struggle with making child care affordable, examine discipline among preschool students and bolster school nutrition. Experts say the new legislation takes crucial steps in supporting students and families, especially those from low-income, minority communities. The laws become effective January 2023.
Here’s a look at some of the bills that recently became law:
Early child care
The state’s youngest learners are in the spotlight as an array of bills focus on early child care and education.
Maeva Marc, vice president of advocacy and policy for Kidango, an early education nonprofit, said SB 1047 prioritizes affordable child care for low-income families. The bill, which Kidango co-sponsored, enables families eligible for state assistance programs like CalFresh and MediCal to automatically qualify for subsidized child care and preschool.
“California is still considered a child care desert,” Marc told San José Spotlight. “We really wanted to create a process that simplifies things for families, as well as the providers. At the end of the day, it is about making sure that children have a safe place to be nurtured and to learn in, and families can get to work and earn a living.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of affordable child care meant working parents, especially women, left jobs to care for young children. In Santa Clara County, more than 300 day care centers shut down, depleting the child care workforce. Districts are working to provide early child care and education for families that rely on child care while parents work.
SB 1047 also changes the length of time families have access to these programs, extending the period from 12 months to 24.
The state is also zeroing in on ensuring all children ages 4 and above enter transitional kindergarten. AB 22 requires data collection by the California Department of Education to examine how widespread access is, said Heidi Emberling, interim chief program officer of FIRST 5, an early childhood group. Mandated, universal transitional kindergarten kicked off at the start of the 2022-23 school year. The hope is to have all students age 4 and above enrolled by the 2025-26 school year.
“We can really target those who haven’t enrolled and figure out what they need, what the barriers are, and why aren’t they able to access these universal transitional kindergarten environments,” Emberling told San José Spotlight.
The newly approved laws are changing how discipline, including suspensions and expulsions, is handled in preschool classrooms. AB 2806 lays out a framework for different actions, including early childhood mental health counseling, to address disciplinary issues with preschool students before using expulsion as a last resort.
The law’s data collection requirement will allow experts to see whether disciplinary actions in preschool are disproportionately impacting students of color, Marc said. Data from the 2022 Silicon Valley Pain Index revealed Black students in Santa Clara County disproportionately face suspensions in comparison to white students.
“(Nationally,) children under four years old were getting kicked out of programs at a higher rate than children in K-12,” Marc said. “It creates a sense of not being wanted, or not being a part of a community, for children at a very young age.”
Other new state laws are working to provide students with the most nutritious school meals possible. School districts played a critical role over the COVID-19 pandemic in addressing hunger among students and families. California became the first state in the nation to guarantee universal school meals this year.
AB 2640 requires the California Department of Education to provide resources for school districts on working with students with food allergies.
The law sets a standard across the board for school districts and will help educators and school nutritionists navigate meals for students with allergies, said Gisela Bushey, CEO of Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen, a nonprofit that works with districts to provide after-school meals to students.
The Buy American Food Act, or SB 490, requires school districts to purchase ingredients that are grown and processed domestically. While schools may face financial impacts from the new law, districts will be able to support local businesses while keeping families fed, Bushey said.
“You’re helping the farmers. You’re also helping the businesses that package and distribute the food. You are supporting children,” Bushey told San José Spotlight. “There’s a value added in being able to support the local economy while at the same time meeting the nutritional needs of children and families throughout the community.”
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.